Forgive me, for it has been quite some time since my last confession. This is a tale of heartache, heroism and hope. Without boring you all with pace and power figures, I will give you insight into my performances relative to past efforts. I'll try to keep it brief (edit: unsuccessfully).
I took my pro license prior to Ironman Western Australia in 2015. Full of ambition after a number of age group wins, I faltered in my debut professional race…a number of times. I had a tragic solo swim, crashed heavily on the bike and retired after a lap of the run as a result. I was explicably disappointed but not disheartened.
My second pro race (first pro finish) was 2 months later in the beautiful South Island of New Zealand at the 2016 edition of Challenge Wanaka. I exited the water with the main group and eventual winner and 3rd place males. Unfortunately for me, this is where the New Zealand fairy tale ended, I had my slowest ever ironman bike and unsurprisingly suffered on the run. This was not a representation of where I was at. After having one of the fastest pro bikes 2 months before in Busselton (crash inclusive) I was out-ridden by the leading pro female (we laughed about this together last week).
Next up was 2016 Ironman Australia. Preparation for this race was much better and despite one of the strongest start lists in recent years, I felt I was ready. To make things a little more interesting, I agreed to race an Olympic distance a few weeks out. Takeaway’s from the Endure Batavia Triathlon; Decent swim/bike/run performances, 3rd place as well as associated winnings and a stress fracture in my lumbar spine.
There were a lot of “why me” moments over the following 8-10 weeks rehabilitation. This also corresponded with a change in coaches. I am now under the astute and perceptive guidance of…well…myself. After a few years in the sport, you tend to learn what works and what does not. My current perception is that I don't need the heavy training volume a lot of coaches prescribe. There is a fine line between progress and injury and I've danced across it a few too many times over the past 18 months. It's not for everyone, but for me, right now, lighter training loads and specific session scheduling are paramount for my longevity in this sport.
After 8 weeks, I resumed running and whilst I had back pain, it seemed to be primarily muscular and nothing a thousand dry needles didn’t seem to alleviate (thanks Kate). One of my gracious sponsors asked if I could race Ironman Taiwan, I now had a race to work toward. An 8-week training block had me feeling relatively well prepared. One week out from the race a tropical cyclone hit the island of Penghu (where the race was due to be held). This sent race logistics into a tailspin for race week and also brought a high-pressure system over the coast (read: head and humidity). I knew the island would be hot and thus enacted my rudimentary heat acclimatization protocol (layers on layers on layers). Mum had to go double-time on the washing, thanks Mum!
I had a few runs on the island leading up to the race seemed which all seemed OK. We had a reverse perfect storm forecast for race day and unfortunately the weatherman got it right. I was relatively pleased with my swim, with only a 5 minute gap to the front of the race. My French compatriot Simon Billeau and I exited the water together and got to work immediately on the bike. By 90km we had cut the deficit to 90 seconds to the front group of 6 who were all working well together and ridden up to 7th and 8th respectively. I managed to get away and pick up a few more places coming off the bike in 5th with only a few minutes to the leader. In hindsight, a 3.10 marathon would have sealed my first Ironman victory. Unfortunately I fell a bit (a lot) short, managing a 4.33 marathon which somehow, was slower than my bike (a milestone every triathlete endeavours to avoid). Whilst I felt great coming off the bike, I had a sneaking suspicion conditions weren’t conducive to fast run times. As I exited T2 my legs were burning, not in the way you’d expect either. The gels that I had picked in T2 were so hot they were burning my legs THROUGH my Fusion Speedsuit. After 3km I was in survival mode and spent the rest of the marathon yogging aid station to aid station where I would reward myself with a head dunking, a jumbo bottle of water (take away) and an iced crotch. At kilometer 32, I first met Kiwi Pro Simon Cochrane who, according to trirating, was the odds on favourite for the win. I waited for Simon to close the final 500m gap between us in the shade of an aid station and we began the 10km trip back to town and the finish line together. We had enough time in this journey to forge a strong friendship and crossed the line for equal 11th (though he still claims he beat me).
So now I had established a swim and run I believed to be competitive in the professional ranks. A lot of people were quick to tell me my run was slow because I biked too hard (my lowest ever Ironman bike power). I was more inclined to think it probably had more to do with carrying my 6'3", 78kg frame around in 44 degree real feel heat, still I couldn’t help but second guess myself.
Me next race was Ironman Western Australia and I was determined to prove to myself as well as others, my bike was not just for show. I was also swimming better than I ever had. Two weeks prior to the race I suffered a fairly severe concussion, the effects of which I am still feeling today, 3 months on. Fearing that my return to full time employment would impede my ability to be in this kind of shape again, I felt I needed to be on THAT start line, against the advice of my team as well as my better judgment. My swim was nothing special, but I believed I had the ability to bike up through the field. This was seemingly still achievable until around 70km on the bike where my head started throbbing and my world started spinning (literally not figuratively). I pulled off after the first lap of the bike and sat against a roadside barrier convinced that #prolyf was over for me.
Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion tomorrow, exclusively on www.allistercaird.com